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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

How a few benefit from others misfortunes

8th February 2012

Like goes one of our tribes’ sayings, ‘even hardship is licked’. Licking here carries the sense of palatability that calls for taste by one who chances to come within the reach of the object, and in this case, a situation.      


It is the paddy harvesting season and many people in this area of Kibaha Maili Moja are in the fields or elsewhere working for their day’s meal.

But middle-aged Habiba Madimla is at home with her two little grandsons. Although Habiba claims to be in good health after we exchange greetings, it is clear she has just recovered from a long illness.

Habiba and her grandsons live in a single-room mud hut. Outside Habiba’s hut is a huge 5,000 litres sim tank that looks extremely out of place. The mud hut and the tank are not compatible at all.

This spectacle attracts the attention of people, especially strangers. This is what attracted this writer’s attention and prompted him to go see who the occupants of the hut were and probably find out more about them.

According to Habiba, the hut was the third to be built on the site. The family built the first house which was replaced by a second one built by an NGO she refers to as UMAKI, in 2003. This one fell down two years later, leaving only the current front wall standing. The other three walls which adjoin the front wall were built by the family.

The non governmental organization came to the rescue of Habiba’s family when she was sick and helpless. That time, Habiba was living with her daughter, Vumilia in their hut that was threatening to collapse. Vumilia was then 12, and her only help. Her husband, Ibrahim Madimla was employed as a driver in Dar es Salaam, coming home occasionally on weekends.

The NGO had built the four walls outside the former ones that were at the verge of collapse, put the original corrugated iron roof in place; brought and installed the sim-tank for water harvesting during the seasonal rains. It then pulled down the threatening inner walls and walked away contented that it had played its part, giving a decent shelter to the homeless.


What astonishes me most about these compassionate donors is that they left the site without fixing a single door to the new single-room hut they had built for a desperate sick woman. According to Habiba, the NGO is now operating under a new name, which she declined to disclose for fear of biting a hand that had fed her.

However, the following questions come to mind concerning the erection of Habiba’s hut’s mud walls. Was it the policy of  the NGO to build single-room mud huts to people in need without fixing doors, or was it the implementers’ idea to keep some of the money allocated for such projects for their own benefit? Also, was the work done so poorly because the woman, being sick that time could have died any time and there would be no one to narrate the story? Why at all should someone take trouble to build a house for someone you are not sure will live, perhaps?

Although this incident has gone too far, similar incidents are common in our society. I remember one in which  a widow in a drought-stricken village in Kilimanjaro a few years back, sent her grand-daughter, aged 14 , to the village office to collect her share of maize flour. The relief food had been provided by the government to the hunger victims. It had been announced that the relief food would be distributed to the villagers, giving priority to widows especially the ones who had no income at all. However, days passed by without the announcement of the exact day when the food would be distributed. So the poor hungry villagers persevered hoping the day would come. When it finally came, the 14-year-old girl left her hungry old grandmother’s house at eight in the morning, queued at the village office for six hours and returned home at around three.

She came back with only a kilogramme of the precious flour. Asked why she had taken so long, the girl narrated how she and many other people had been made to wait for a long time while the leaders who were supposed to distribute the flour took their time. Some loitered here and there and some kept themselves busy with their phones until midday when they finally began to distribute the flour.

It’s hard to believe that the government would propose to give hungry people a single kilogramme of sembe (maize flour) and call it relief food, anticipating the period of plenty because it won’t save them from starving. The government does not provide food for the sake of giving; it provides in order to save life.

One would therefore be forgiven to think the leaders who were seen moving here and there during the time of distributing the food were communicating with tycoons to whom to sell some of the relief food. Newspapers have reported some local government servants who were arrested elsewhere with such food as they went to deliver it to merchants.

Since the kilogramme brought to the widow could serve for only one meal, it is probable that she, like other villagers was expected to buy more from these tycoons later. So the hunger victims supposed to have been given the food without paying money were forced to buy it from hawkers. The leaders they had voted for were forcing them to do so. However, buying rights in our society is not strange.

The same principle circumvents HIV/AIDS, orphans and other institutions that are meant to help such affected individuals. Someone could conceive a plan to help the afflicted bearing in mind that activists will join him to raise funds with which he’ll care for the needy. After the project fattens, this person will not abandon the beneficiaries, but they will become his ladder to prosperity.

Orphans have hands with which they can till the land; even some mentally retarded people can work with their hands. The HIV/AIDS individuals are entitled to get some aid offered by the government or donors, but a project director who introduced the project showing all signs of sympathy to the affected, till activists were moved to join hands with him, will withhold some for himself.

He will acquire land from the government just freely and use the subjects to work on it, claiming he is doing so to produce their own food. Nobody will ask why donated funds are not used to purchase food for them because his project is not audited. Donations might be flowing in daily but nobody entails the details of such.

After all, if the subjects can work who’ll not want them to? Who’ll raise questions about it? Isn’t it good for them to work? Would a person of sound mind defy the idea of an ill-fated person to work for his own food? Of course not; as a matter of fact, one sees this as a step towards the person’s dependency on his own, which is a blessing.

However on the contrary, such a person will remain in the institution where he’ll die in old age, having received nothing apart from his daily low dietary meal and an aspirin pill when he catches a cold.

We all know that a good number of NGOs are not genuinely established for the missions they claim to pursue. They establish the NGOs to feed their own stomachs, using the needy as stepping stones.

Poverty is an enemy to most Tanzanians, but has become the best friend and a teacher to some who have learnt to employ it to enrich themselves. When drought hits the land and the government sends food to the hunger victims, some individuals steal the food, sell it and build mansions for themselves, drink beer and ‘chase’ women using ill obtained money.

And when donors fund NGOs so they can help the needy, a big percentage of the money goes to the NGO owners’ pockets. Like a Swahili saying goes, Kufa kufaana. Even hardship is licked!

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